BRIDGE Phantasy Piano Quartet in F sharp minor (12’)
SCHUBERT Piano Quintet in A, D.667, ‘The Trout’ (37’)
LUTOSŁAWKSI Dance Preludes (9’)
MARTINŮ Nonet (17’)
BRITTEN Sinfonietta, Op.1 (15’)
The adventurous 11 players of Ensemble 360 make a rare visit to Snape Maltings, showcasing the range and virtuosity of their programming and performance.
The intricate harmonies of Bridge’s lush Phantasy Quartet lead into Schubert’s enduringly joyful Trout Quintet, one of the most famous pieces of chamber music. Lutosławski’s Preludes are infused with the energy and rhythms of folk-inspired dance. Britten’s bravura Sinfonietta is a passionate and expansive journey that brings this eclectic programme to a brisk and thrilling finale.
BRIDGE Frank, Phantasy Piano Quartet in F sharp minor H.94
One of Bridge’s most characterful early works, this Piano Quartet from 1910 was played at the 1948 Aldeburgh Festival with Bridge’s most famous pupil, Benjamin Britten at the piano. Britten also supplied a note on the piece: ‘Finished in June 1910, this work is written in Bridge’s early style – sonorous yet lucid, with clear, clean lines, grateful to listen to and to play. It is the music of a practical musician, brought up in German orthodoxy, but who loved French romanticism and conception of sound – Brahms happily tempered with Fauré.’
The work is in three continuous sections: a Barcarolle, a Scherzo and Trio, and a recitative leading to a reprise of the opening. Writing about the short coda, Britten says that it ‘suggests the deep red afterglow of a sunset.’
Nigel Simeone 2014
SCHUBERT Franz, Piano Quintet in A major D667, ‘The Trout’
Theme and Variations: Andante
Silvester Paumgartner was a wealthy amateur cellist who lived in Steyr, Upper Austria, and an enthusiastic supporter of Schubert and his music. After playing Hummel’s Piano Quintet Paumgartner wanted a quintet for the same combination of instruments (violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano) from Schubert, who visited in the summer of 1819 (and again in 1823 and 1825). Paumgartner also wanted a work that included reference to Schubert’s song Die Forelle, The Trout, which had been composed in 1817. For Schubert, his visits to Paumgartner in the Upper Austrian countryside were a delight, a chance to make music, enjoy good company and revel in the spectacular scenery.
Willi Kahl, writing in Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music wrote that ‘the fundamental tone of the piece is defined by the persistence of a major key throughout’ – underlining that this is among Schubert’s most genial chamber works. The first movement is brilliant but never flashy while the Andante is the expressive core of the work, suggesting, Kahl believed, ‘a moonlit night-song from the Styrian landscape’. The Scherzo is muscular and energetic, with a more easy-going central Trio section. In the first three variations, the theme is heard in its original form (on a different instrument each time) and remains clearly recognisable in the more freely worked fourth and fifth variations. In the last variation, Schubert brings the Quintet back to the original song as the unmistakable figurations of the song’s piano accompaniment are heard for the first time, to utterly enchanting effect. The finale is amiable and untroubled (though not without a couple of surprises), bringing this most affable of works to a properly jubilant close.
© Nigel Simeone
LUTOSŁAWKSI Witold, Dance Preludes
In 1954, Witold Lutosławski wrote his five Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano, based on folk tunes from Northern Poland, describing them as his ‘farewell to folk music’. In 1959 he recast the pieces for the Czech Nonet – comprising wind quintet, violin, viola, cello and double bass – in which he makes one significant change: no longer is the clarinet the soloist, but the thematic material is shared between the whole ensemble. Lutosławski’s biographer Charles Bodman Rae has described the way the composer transforms the folk tunes, and generates the propulsive energy in the faster movements: ‘Superimposition of different metres is the main feature of these pieces, resulting in metrical and rhythmic contradictions. This technique is most noticeable in the first, third and fifth pieces and invests them with much of their rhythmic vitality.’
This Nonet version of the Dance Preludes was first performed by the Czech Nonet at a concert in Louny, 40 miles northwest of Prague, on 10 November 1959.
Nigel Simeone 2013
MARTINŮ Bohuslav, Nonet H374
This work dates from the last year of Martinů’s life and he wrote it with a specific ensemble in mind: the Czech Nonet. This Nonet is one of Martinů’s most fluent and skilful chamber works and in the outer movements his music suggests something akin to the joyful music-making of a group of Czech folk musicians. The heart of the work is the lyrical central Andante.
Martinů was far from home (he spent his last years in Switzerland) and in this movement he seems to bid a fond farewell to the Czech homeland that he knew he would never see again. The first performance was given by the Czech Nonet at the Salzburg Festival on 27 July 1959 and Martinů died a month later, on 28 August.
Nigel Simeone © 2011
BRITTEN Benjamin, Sinfonietta Op.1
1. Poco presto ed agitato
2. Variations: Andante lento
3. Tarantella: Presto vivace
Britten was already a very prolific composer by the time he gave this work its designation as his official Opus One. Dedicated to his teacher, Frank Bridge, it was written when Britten was 18 years old, and it already demonstrates his extraordinary imagination. The influence of Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony is apparent in places, and the instrumental writing in all three movements has a fluency and flamboyance that quickly became hallmarks of the young Britten’s music. The first public performance was given on 31 January 1933 at the Mercury Theatre, London, in one of the Macnaghten-Lemare concerts played by the English Wind Players and the Macnaghten String Quartet, conducted by Iris Lemare. Britten’s music has always been more enthusiastically received abroad, and on 7 August 1933, the Sinfonietta was broadcast on Radio Strasbourg, conducted by the great Hermann Scherchen. The first British broadcast was a month later, by members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Clark.
© Nigel Simeone 2013